There’s an unlikely emotion that acts as the moral compass of a workplace. According to a researcher from Temple University’s Fox School of Business, it’s anger.
Dr. Deanna Geddes’ conceptual research delves into moral anger, an emotional expression that is geared toward the improvement of the human condition within the workplace. She and fellow researcher, Dr. Dirk Lindebaum of the University of Liverpool, (now Cardiff University), proposed a new definition for moral anger within their research paper, “The Place and Role of (Moral) Anger in Organizational Behavior Studies,” which was published online December 2015 in the Journal of Organizational Behavior.
The Chair of Fox’s Department of Human Resource Management, Geddes said employees potentially place at risk their jobs, careers, and companies for which they work when moral anger motivates actions that expose inappropriate circumstances at work.
Where moral anger varies from expressions of personal anger, she said, is in the identification of the subject who is suffering from workplace injustice and improprieties.
“It’s important to note that, with both moral anger and personal anger, social norms are violated and likely people were treated unfairly,” she said. “But instances of moral anger prompt action when you witness an incident that impacts someone else more than it impacts you. Speaking out on behalf of others is the core differentiator.
“Moral anger isn’t a self-serving type of anger expression. It’s the opposite. It’s someone’s response when another is being treated unfairly or being bullied, for example. Moral anger triggers corresponding action that is not intended to cause further harm, but instead to help repair the situation.”
Often an employee who expresses anger at work is viewed as “an out-of-control and hostile deviant,” Geddes notes. However, unless it’s a common occurrence, Geddes’s research found that those who express anger in the workplace are likely to be a company’s most-committed and most-loyal employees.
That’s because moral anger is a fairness-enhancing emotion, through which employees can act with the wellbeing of others in mind. Geddes said moral anger has the potential to restore equity, protect dignity, improve working conditions, and rectify damaging situations.
She and Lindebaum reviewed literatures on similar anger constructs, including those which pertained to moral outrage and moral conduct, to see how moral anger differentiated. Then, they reviewed literature pertaining to expressions of anger, to arrive at a more-practical “redefinition,” she said.
“Moral anger, by our definition, is not intended to avenge an individual person’s slights,” Geddes said. “It is to demonstrate that the human condition within an organizational environment can be improved. That’s truly the goal and the social function of moral anger – to defend those who are vulnerable.”
Douglas Franklin, a second-year PhD student at Temple University’s Fox School of Business, co-authored a paper that has been accepted for publication in Leadership Quarterly, a top journal. Franklin’s paper, titled “An Exploration of the Interactive Effects of Leader Trait Goal Orientation and Goal Content in Teams,” explores how leaders’ personalities and goal orientations affect teams’ task commitment, learning, and overall competency. “One of my co-authors and mentor, Dr. Christopher Porter, introduced me to the concept of leader-goal orientation, which relates to a leader’s tendency to guide their teams to focus on learning more or displaying their current knowledge when working on tasks,” said Franklin.
When working in a group, it’s inevitable that a team’s goals won’t always align with its leader’s predisposition, Franklin said. He and his fellow researchers found that, ultimately, goal orientation of leaders has a direct effect on overall team competency, for better or for worse.“When team leaders have a high tendency to encourage learning-goal orientation, it helps teams perform better when assigned performance goals,” Franklin said. “However, when team leaders have a high tendency to encourage absolute performance-goal orientation, their teams learn less when assigned learning goals.”
Franklin added that he and his fellow researchers also found that team commitment improved when leaders placed a stronger emphasis on learning goal orientation rather than on performance goal orientation. Goal orientation of leaders affects society as a whole because it is a large factor in everyday life, he said.
“Whether at work, in outside organizations, or even at home, it is important to take into consideration how your personality and your tendencies may affect those who you lead and collaborate with,” Franklin said. “Sometimes our goals do not necessarily align with subordinates, co-workers, and collaborators, which may have negative consequences if not checked.”
Though organizations typically use Big Five personality traits, and Meyers Briggs tests to understand employees during recruitment and training decisions, goal orientation may be a meaningful quasi-trait to test, Franklin said, because “it mirrors the achievement habits of people.”
At the Fox School, Franklin is pursuing his PhD in Business Administration with a concentration in Human Resource Management and Organizational Behavior. He expects to complete the doctoral program in Spring 2019 and receive a faculty appointment in higher education thereafter.
Prior to his studies at the Fox School of Business, Franklin earned a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration from Florida A&M University. He also earned an MBA from Rice University, and a Master’s degree in Management from Texas A&M University.